Global Health Gains Are Good News, 'Plenty' of Concerns Remain: Church Humanitarian Agency Official

(Photo Credit: Church World Service/Chris Herlinger)A farmer with rice in a drought-affected area of Indonesia is seen in an undated photo.

Despite an overall improvement in the health of the global population, there are areas of concern that continue to need attention, an official with humanitarian agency Church World Service says.

Maurice A. Bloem, Church World Service's deputy director and head of programs said in an article published by the agency on Thursday that a recent study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Global Burden of Disease Study published by The Lancet are good news.

He said the reports should stimulate people addressing humanitarian concerns to improve their activities to end hunger and poverty and also to improve measurement of health.

"If we have more reliable data, it can lead to shifts in health priorities and we can be more effective with our actions and interventions," he said in an interview with CWS writer Chris Herlinger. "These findings should be used for further debates about its meaning for policy and practice."

"It is absolutely great that we have made significant improvements in areas such as child survival and infectious diseases," he said.

However Bloem noted that "unfortunately there is plenty to be concerned about."

He alluded to problems related to obesity, noting there are increases in heart disease and diabetes. The CWS article links to an article by the Economist on the matter. Bloem says the world is "out of balance" in how it deals with nutrition.

He also cited a New York Times article analyzing results of the Lancet study, noting that sub-Saharan Africa is an exception to global trends.

"Malnutrition remains a huge problem in that region, as do childhood and infectious diseases and problems still associated with maternal health," he said.

He noted the article's focus on the region's lagging performance in mortality gains, "with the average age of death rising by fewer than 10 years from 1970 to 2010, compared with a more than 25-year increase in Latin America, Asia, and North Africa."

"These are still deeply troubling statistics," he said.

"The prevalence of stunting – an indicator of chronic malnutrition that reflects the long-term nutritional situation of a population – still remains way too high in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He said a framework devised by UNICEF says to key factors in causing stunting are a lack of dietary intake of essential nutrients and the prevalence of infectious diseases.

"We have to again repeat the importance of proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life. In many parts of the world, that means improving a mother's access to better feeding products, and that needs to be a key component of our strategies and activities in solving the problem of nutrition," he said.

"[R]ates of malnutrition are still too high - providing children with not only food, but nutritious food remains a real global challenge. That is why, in places like east Africa and Indonesia, CWS continues our work around childhood nutrition, such as the program we initiated this year in rural Kenya providing multi-micronutrient powder supplements," he added.

He also referred to the Millennium Development Goals, which United Nations member states agreed to reach by 2015. The goals include eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality rates, improving maternal health, fighting infections diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

"We do need to continue our road towards reaching the MDG goals, but we also need to look beyond 2015," he said. "Only reaching the goals is not enough, but we also need to look at quality and not only quantity. Ensuring that children not only go to school, but are also able to receive quality education. Not only ensuring that we end hunger, but also to ensure that children receive nutritious food from birth."

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